Thurmond, West Virginia, Part II
From last week’s Thurmond Part I, we learned of a fascinating yet rugged, rough and tumble town of the early 1900’s. It was rich, ambitious and DEADLY!!
Today we will learn of what happened to this once Bustling Boomtown that is ABANDONED today. Some even believe that ghosts of former residents and victims of brutal killings roam the deserted buildings today.
In the late 1930’s, mines moved to more productive areas, and people followed the work. Automobiles provided independence from having to adhere to train schedules and stops, and therefore fewer used the passenger trains. Thurmond also did not escape the ravages of the Great Depression.
Fires destroyed much of the town, including the Hotel Thurmond. And the final nail in the coffin was the railroad’s switch to diesel engines in the late 1940’s. Diesel engines didn’t require the frequent refueling of coal and water. The C+O Railroad Company eventually removed Thurmond altogether as one of their required stops.
The town fell into decay. But in 1995, the National Parks Service took over the abandoned town and shored up deteriorating buildings and cleared debris and bramble. Today, thousands of tourists visit Thurmond each year to learn about its rich history.
Let’s See What Thurmond Looks Like Today!!
One warm September afternoon, we drove over the New River to explore the town.
Before 1921, Thurmond was only accessible by train. After that, a single lane was added. The bridge overlooked a rushing river with the Appalachian Mountains as its backdrop. As with other National Parks properties, there were the familiar signs depicting what we were seeing. AND we had the entire town to ourselves that day.
What does this town where trains once brought 75,000 visitors to each year look like today? We are about to find out!!
The train depot was renovated and is still in use today, not only as a brightly painted train station but also as offices and a National Park Visitor Center. Inside, historic furnishings and photos depict Thurmond’s storied past.
Above is my black and white rendition of this historic depot. Photographs of it might have looked like this in the 1900’s.
Amazingly enough, three Amtrak passenger trains along with freight trains pass through each week!! It’s a regular stop on the Amtrak route.
Of course you can freely wander and explore on this National Parks property, but keep in mind that the tracks are still active!! So watch out for passing trains!
What Does the Rest of Thurmond Look Like Today?
Just a short walk takes us to…
…The Business District!! There it is, the town of Thurmond today, that looks so similar to its old photos. We are going to walk through Thurmond’s business district just like thousand’s did over a century ago, on a gravel path next to the train tracks.
Remnants of the heydays of Thurmond can still be seen. The pillars of the bank and the mosaic entry remain, along with covered windows of store fronts of a by gone time.
Rainwater from the steep hillsides that the buildings were built into must have poured onto the path, making a muddy mess for the finely dressed visitors as they conducted their business and shopping.
The tall coaling tower near the end of town draws your attention to it as you walk the short distance through the Business District.
The pulley wheels and chute openings still remain.
Post Office and Town Hall
The Thurmond Post Office was established in 1888 and only closed in 1995.
Though mostly abandoned, Thurmond does actually have residents, four to be exact, making it the smallest town in West Virginia. Every inhabitant holds an elected office and at each election cycle they vote for one another as they take turns in different roles. This tiny building is Town Hall where these four officials / residents hold their elections and meetings.
Also, note to the right is an empty field. That is where the Thurmond Hotel was, until it burned to the ground in 1963.
And As If On Cue, a Train Came!!
And as if on cue, the whistle of a train pierced the quiet afternoon. Soon a freight train roared through. As we stopped to watch it pass, I imagined standing in this thriving, busy town at the turn of the 1900’s. I imagined that this was yet another train to drop off more passengers and goods. I marveled at how close the train came to the buildings and how their windows must have rattled as each train thundered by.
Further adding to the historic experience, it passed the coaling tower, as I imagined it stopping there for service and refueling just in 1900.
The Remains of the Water Towers
These pedestals are all that remain of the water towers that contained up to 210,000 gallons to refuel the steam locomotives. The huge towers were removed by the C+O Railroad in 1998.
Here is another view of the residential area of Thurmond. Note the nicer homes built high up into the hillsides. The lovelier the home, the higher it was built, likely to get away from the noisy trains.
Note in the circled area above the stone building with the balcony and across the road from it is a small home. And there is a road in between them that takes you to the nicer homes built into the hillside.
We Are Headed There Next!
Today, here’s the stone building with the balcony and across the road from it is a small home. And there is a road in between them that takes you to the nicer homes built into the hillside, JUST LIKE IN THE OLD PHOTO!!
And yes, to further help with the historic ambiance, another train came by!
Upon closer viewing, there are even nameplates of previous residents!
There is that same small frame house and the steep road between them. And that is where we are headed!!
Larger Homes Built High Up for the Rich
The richer homes likely belonged to the owners of the coal mines as well as bankers and business people.
And just a short walk takes us to these abandoned homes. They likely once housed guests that arrived on the trains and hosted lively parties. I would have loved to peek inside, but the thick overgrown vegetation and the possibility of snakes lurking underneath deterred me.
Rentals for the Railroad Workers
Captain Thurmond built 30 of these small houses and rented them to railroad employees. You can see in the top center of photo above these small buildings.
Many of these buildings are still intact and you are free to explore them up close!!
It was a fascinating time spent that warm afternoon in September in the abandoned and historic town Thurmond, West Virginia, nestled in the scenic Appalachian Mountains. My favorite part was being able to freely roam the area and explore. For more information, visit the National Parks Service website here.
For another fascinating historic town, check out the Utopian and Progressive Town of New Harmony, Indiana here!!
Upcoming adventures! Glacier National Park and we are returning to Europe! Stay tuned!